According to Opera America, Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini is the most-performed opera in the U.S. (Puccini also grabs the #2 spot with La Bohème). It is easy to see why—it has an incredible score and provides a soprano with the opportunity to really shine. However, the plot is so uncomfortable (a callous American officer “marries” and abandons a 15-year-old Japanese girl) that I have mixed feelings about it. Watching San Francisco Opera’s latest production on Veterans Day did not help matters.
It also did not help that I really did not like many of the production choices, particularly the set: a rotating Japanese house, turned periodically by what I could only describe as ninja assassins. For such a quietly dramatic piece, the rotation was very distracting. The turners remained on stage throughout and were generally unobtrusive, as one would expect from a ninja, but they occasionally interacted with the players, which threw me out of the story completely.
Also, throwing me out of the story? The moment when Butterfly is sitting vigil for Pinkerton to return, with the unmistakable (to me) strains of “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil playing in the background. Given that the plot of Schönberg and Boublil’s Miss Saigon is essentially Madame Butterfly shifted to Vietnam, that can’t be a coincidence. (Although obviously not Puccini’s fault.)
Despite my complaints, I was pleasantly surprised by this production, mostly because I had read a number of negative reviews when it opened. Apparently, there were two casts for this production and we saw the second. A good thing I guess, because I felt that all the main players sang well and gave a strong performance. It was a good close to our subscription for the season.
I’m sorry the season is over, but I’m really glad I decided to do this and look forward to next year.
And now the awards!
Production I would most readily see again: Le Nozze di Figaro
Favorite scene: “Gloria all’Egitto” aka The Triumphal March from Aida
Outstanding lead performance (male): Plácido Domingo as Cyrano
Outstanding lead performance (female): Ainhoa Arteta as Roxane
Outstanding supporting performance: Daveda Karanas as Suzuki
Best set design: Cyrano de Bergerac
Best costumes: Aida
Best ninjas: Madama Butterfly